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India’s dirty laundry becomes art in China

Mumbai’s washermen, slum-dwellers and the crowds on the Andheri local train — they’re all starring in a video installation show in Beijing with collectors willing to pay a steep price for this slice of India, reports Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Oct 04, 2008 23:52 IST
Reshma Patil

It used to be the London and New York set who would find India’s ‘chaos’ (read: poverty) so thrilling. Now, it’s Beijing that’s discovering high art in India’s low living. Mumbai’s washermen, slum-dwellers and the crowds on the Andheri local train — they’re all starring in a video installation show in Beijing and are under the scrutiny of Chinese collectors who are willing to pay a steep price for this slice of India.

Inside the former military factories now converted into an art district where works can fetch thousands of euros, Korean textile artist Kimsooja’s ‘Mumbai: A Laundry Field’, is on exhibit from September to December.

"Laundry in Hindu culture is not just an everyday domestic phenomenon,’’ states the catalogue with perfect equanimity. “It is a specific ritual left to the lowest caste as an act of purification for their own karma.’’

Heaps of second-hand clothes from China and Mumbai lie on the floor of Galleria Continua. Confused/bemused visitors who pick up a garment are told not to touch the ‘art’.

The corridors are lined with photographs of the poorest of India's financial capital. Cheap kurtas, sarees and other garments hang everywhere.

“Laundry is a big issue in India,” says Li Yunbo, who handles the China market for Galleria Continua. Last year, the Italy-headquartered gallery showed Mumbai-born artist Anish Kapoor’s works.

“Do you see this everywhere in your country?” Li asked this correspondent, pointing to photographs of pavement dwellers sleeping beside dogs.

Inside a bare room, a four-channel video displays ‘Mumbai exotica’.

Li says that collectors have shown interest in the video installation. But the gallery refused to disclose its price. New York-based Kimsooja did not respond to an e-mail request for comments.

The images, one is told by the gallery’s media statement, “oblige one to question the hardship and tragedy of life while enjoying its aesthetic appeal”. Oh dear, just when we thought we had heard the last of that.